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COVID-19 and the Courts: What You Need to Know

Authors: Chantelle Cseh, Sarah Gorguos and Trevor May

Across the globe, courts are rapidly adapting their practices and procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a number of jurisdictions, hearings have been adjourned; procedures and timelines for filings have been amended; and limitation periods have been suspended. We have summarized below the need-to-know information about civil proceedings in a number of courts and tribunals in Ontario and Québec, as well as the Federal Courts and the Supreme Court of Canada. We will continue to monitor and update our clients and community members on applicable practices as events unfold.

Filings and Procedural Deadlines

Ontario Superior Court of Justice

  • Hearings. Civil matters scheduled to be heard on or after March 17, 2020, are adjourned until further notice. The Court will continue to hear urgent and time-sensitive matters when immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no hearing, including insolvency matters.
    • Starting April 6, remote hearings will be expanding to include the following civil matters in most court locations:
      • Pre-Trial Conferences – Pre-trial conferences that were cancelled between March 16 and May 31, 2020, due to the court closure can be rescheduled at the request of the parties. The objective of any rescheduled pre-trial conferences will be settling the action.
      • Motions or applications to approve settlements where a party is under a disability, in writing.
      • Consent motions, in writing.
      • Each region’s Notice may include other civil matters that may be heard in that region. The process to schedule a civil hearing is set out in each region’s Notice, all of which can be found on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s website.
    • In Toronto, the Court is hearing remote case management conferences for class actions, including precertification, certification and post-certification motions approved at such conferences.
    • Hearings may be conducted in writing, by teleconference or by videoconference unless the provincial Ministry of the Attorney General determines that a physical hearing is necessary.
  • Filings. The Court will accept filings by email at the specific email addresses indicated in a region’s Notice to the Profession only for urgent matters or those identified in a region’s Notice to the Profession. Any materials filed via email must be filed in paper format, with the requisite filing fee, at the court counter when regular court operations resume.
    • Parties should file Claims or Statements of Claims through the Civil Claims Online Portal. For matters that are not “urgent” or have not been identified to be dealt with in a region’s Notice to Profession, counsel and parties are discouraged from physically attending courthouses to file documents in person.
    • Time periods for steps in civil proceedings as established by statute, regulation, rule, bylaw, or order of the Government of Ontario have been suspended.
    • More generally, the Court has indicated that it will relieve compliance with procedural rules, regulations and statutes as necessary to manage matters before it during the emergency.

Ontario Superior Court of Justice – Commercial List

  • Hearings. All regular, non-urgent matters are adjourned to after June 1, 2020.
    • The Commercial List is remotely hearing urgent matters, as well as select motions and applications, case management conferences, pre-trial conferences and judicial settlement conferences.
  • Filings. Commercial List judges are accepting materials via email. Filing hard copies is unnecessary provided the Commercial List office is copied on the email.

Ontario Court of Appeal

  • Hearings. Appeals scheduled to be heard between March 17 and April 3, 2020, are adjourned. The Court will continue to hear urgent appeals in writing or remotely. Parties to non-urgent appeals scheduled between March 17 and April 3, 2020, can request that their appeals be heard in writing.
  • Filings. Filings can be mailed, emailed or dropped off outside the Court’s Intake Office.

Superior Court of Québec

  • Hearings. Hearings are adjourned, except for urgent matters.
  • Filings. Filings can be mailed. Only urgent filings will be accepted at the Court office counter.

Québec Court of Appeal

  • Hearings. Appeals scheduled to be heard between March 17 and May 1, 2020, are adjourned. Parties with urgent appeals scheduled between March 17 and April 3, 2020, must apply to the registry in writing for special consideration.
  • Filings. Only urgent filings will be accepted at the Court office counter. No other filings are being accepted at this time.

Federal Court

  • Hearings. Matters scheduled to be heard between March 17 and April 17, 2020, are adjourned. The Court will continue to hear urgent matters as well as previously scheduled matters that need to proceed for exceptional reasons. Such matters will be heard by telephone unless the Court determines that an in-person hearing is necessary.
  • Timelines. The running of all timelines under Orders and Directions of the Court made prior to March 18, 2020, as well as under the Federal Courts Rules, subsection 18.1(2) of the Federal Courts Act and paragraph 72(2)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as well as timelines under the Federal Courts Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Protection Rules and s. 22.1 of the Citizenship Act are suspended between March 17 and April 17, 2020. Deadlines for commencing matters under other statutes apply and cannot be extended or varied unless permitted under the terms of those statutes.
    • Parties can request an extension of time if they are unable to meet deadlines as a result of the current circumstances, but such requests should not be made until after April 17, 2020.
  • Filings. Filings should be made electronically through the Court’s e-filing portal.

Federal Court of Appeal

  • Hearings. All matters scheduled to be heard between March 16 and May 15, 2020, are adjourned except for urgent matters, which will be heard by teleconference.
  • Timelines. The running of all timelines is suspended between March 16 and May 15, 2020. Deadlines for commencing appeals or applications under the Federal Courts Act may be extended by request. Deadlines for commencing matters under other statutes apply and cannot be extended or varied unless permitted under the terms of those statutes.
  • Filings. Parties are encouraged to file via email. Filings at locations designated for document drop-off at all Registry counters is permitted, but Registry staff will no longer be available to accept in-person filing of paper documents.

Supreme Court of Canada

  • Hearings. The Court has rescheduled hearings that were scheduled for March, April and May 2020. All other currently scheduled hearings remain on the agenda until further notice. Parties may seek an adjournment or request to appear by telephone or video.
  • Timelines. Deadlines imposed by the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada are suspended until further notice. Other deadlines prescribed by statute remain in force.
  • Filings. Filings should be made by email, with original paper copies to be filed subsequently.

Tax Court of Canada

  • Hearings. All matters scheduled to be heard between March 17 and May 1, 2020, are cancelled.
  • Filings. The Court’s registry offices are closed until further notice.

Ontario Securities Commission

  • Hearings. All in-person hearings are adjourned until at least April 30, 2020. The Commission will determine on a case-by-case basis whether matters can proceed via teleconference or in writing.
  • Filings. The Commission has not announced changes to its filing practices, but generally accepts electronic filings.

Autorité des marchés financiers and Tribunal administratif des marchés financiers (AMF Tribunal)

  • Hearings. In-person hearings are adjourned, except for urgent matters, until the declaration of the public health emergency period expires.
  • Filings. The Tribunal is accepting electronic submissions.

Limitation Periods

As of March 15, 2020, all prescription periods and procedural time periods in civil matters are suspended in Québec until the declaration of the public health emergency period expires. On March 21, 2020, certain time limits for administrative justice proceedings were suspended. On March 24, 2020, certain time limits for penal proceedings were suspended.

As of March 16, 2020, all limitation periods and procedural time periods in Ontario are suspended until further notice.

Commissioning of Affidavits

Until further notice, the Law Society of Ontario has advised that lawyers are not required to be in the affiant’s physical presence to commission an affidavit. Alternative means of commissioning, such as by video, will be permitted. Reasonable and appropriate measures must still be taken to confirm the identity of the affiant.

The Québec Ministry of Justice has advised that sworn declarations can be made remotely provided that certain form and identification requirements are met.

Remote Hearings and Discoveries

Davies remains committed to providing exceptional client service, and we are equipped to handle your urgent and other litigation matters during this time of disruption. Our team is positioned and prepared to operate remotely for both day-to-day matters as well as hearings, discoveries, witness preparation and other meetings using WebEx, Zoom and other technologies.

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